Nuclear Fuel Recycling Viable


"U.S. could regain a top position in nuclear fuel cycle. . ."

There could be "significant benefits" in the implementation of reprocessing and recycling technology under a new waste management strategy, industry executives have told the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.

Today, America is focused on a once-through strategy for managing used nuclear fuel, meaning that uranium-based fuel is used once and then sent for disposal. However, most of the energy potential of the fuel still remains after one cycle, and this material can be recycled.

Testifying to the commission's subcommittee on reactor and fuel cycle technology, Alan Hanson, VP of technologies and used fuel management at Areva's U.S. subsidiary, noted some of the major benefits of this technology including the ability to reuse material in used fuel which enhances the security of the fuel supply and conserves natural resources. Recycling also reduces by 75% the volume of high-level waste that must be sent to a repository and reduces the toxicity of this waste by a factor of 90%.

He said: "The once-through fuel cycle is not consistent with the resurgence of nuclear energy. More nuclear power means more used fuel." He added, "Our legacy policy was designed decades ago in a different context, where stable or declining outputs of used fuel were anticipated. Policy modernization in the U.S. is crucial to restoring public confidence in nuclear energy and assuring U.S. leadership in the successful global management of used fuel."

Hanson hinted that the U.S. might regain a top position in the nuclear fuel cycle if it were to go back to reprocessing and recycling. "Through its deployments internationally, the recycling process invented in the U.S. has benefited from decades of lessons-learned and continuous improvements in technology. A new recycling facility in the U.S. would not simply replicate facilities from France, the UK or Japan, but rather would employ state-of-the-art technologies and processes."

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